Throughout history women have been thought of as the ‘weaker sex,’ and whilst this might be true in an arm wrestling contest, the fact is women have gained power that far exceeds issues of physical strength.
The perception that women are powerless is based on the cultural patterns that were dictated by the limited role they played outside the home.
The concept that it is a ‘man’s world’ can be seen in most African cultures–in our tradition for example only men were addressed in the plural “lona” while women and children were referred to as “wena.”
Some of the benefits the menfolk enjoyed included not being questioned over their movements, exercising the freedom to wonder from flower to flower.
Even arriving home in the early hours of the morning a man did not have to explain where he had been, other than referring to that place as “monna gabotswe.”
With no questions asked they still had the luxury to call their wives to scrub their backs as they took a bath.
It is incredible how things have changed, with the younger generation at the forefront of the transformation, as you will see from this week’s column.
Kala came with a unique story, one that the more conservative would not have allowed to come near the doors of the customary court.
I listened to her with mixed emotions, coming close to losing my comfortable role as a compassionate mother, and struggling not to be judgemental.
Kala’s opening statement was: “ I know you will not understand but just give me a chance, oreetsefela”- meaning just listen.
I did so as she told her story, barely pausing to take breath.
“ I am a married woman and still married and my husband says he will not divorce me for what I did……eh…mm.. the last two children eehgasebamonna(they were fathered by somebody else)….
When he confronted me I told the truth..”
The words poured out in fast forward confession.
She told me that a man called Phiri, who happened to be the father of her two children,promised to take care of them but had suddenly developed an attitude that the children were officially that of her husband.
Phiri knew that Kala could not file for maintenance since that would raise eyebrows.
In the brief silence that followed I grappled with the facts, searching to see how, if at all, I could help.
Kala must have read my mind as she pleaded with me to understand, even offering a solution of her own.
“Kgosi if you call him as a parent he will realize that I am prepared to expose him and he will have to do something to assist me raise his children.”
I had a problem that if Mr Nkaro, Kala’s husband, were to find out that I had listened to a married woman seeking a hearing with her boyfriend, it would not go down well.
But at the same time Kala deserved to be heard without “prejudice” since she was adamant I address the matter at the Kgotla, and not take it to the Magistrate’s Court.
To help me in my assessment of the case I asked Kala to give a brief profile of her husband.
This is what she had to say:“ Nkaro spends four days of the week with his drinking pals, then during the three days he spends at home he is locked into his own company sendingsms texts to his friends.”
She informed me that she had even copied some of the ‘incriminating’ messages from his male friends into her phone to use as evidence against himif ever needed.
Agreeing to talk to Phiri I called the mobile number she gave me and was greeted with a heavy baritone roar on the other end of the line.
As I introduced myself and explained why I was calling, the self-confident baritone was reduced to the humble voice of a beggar.
Phiriagreed to a meeting, and just 15 minutes later he appeared at the kgotla. He greeted me warmly and without any hint of embarrassment gave Kala a familiar, all embracing hug.
I briefly explained why the three of us were in one room.
Then when it was Phiri’s turn to do the talking, I was struck by the ‘matter of fact’ way he dealt with the issues, as if describing a simple toothache.
He explained that the first child was a mistake but the second was planned.
The two had planned a future together.
The idea was that Kala would shut the door on her unhappy union with her husband to pave the way for her lover to become a proper father to their children.
Phiri added that he was reluctant to give Kala money for the kids fearing that it would go towards supporting her‘good for nothing’ man.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
Traditionally any woman who finds herself at the deep end of a marriage pool is expected to tell her in-laws and her parents, and get them to attend the many indaba’s surrounding the issue.
Kala however had not taken that route, preferring instead to seek solace from her unhappy marriage in the arms of a lover.
Now with two kids to add to the equation any discussion would have been in the category of ‘after the horse had bolted,’ and to Kala’s way of thinking a pointless and unwanted airing of the circumstances bounding her failing marriage.
The choices she had made were beyond the laid down principles of traditional custom.
As for Phiri his negligence of the two children under another’s man’s domicile was understandable, but what I had more difficulty understanding was the way hehad taken advantage of an ailing marriage to plant the fruit of his loins in another’s man ground.
Aside from the issues of morality he was also risking being taken to task for “thubolelwapa” – marriage wrecking.
I also had to consider what Nkaro’s rights were in this whole thing.
Do alcoholics loose all dignity and respect because of their crippling sickness?
Kala said that Nkaro had declared never to divorce her but in return she should not demand any support from him for the additional children.
This might have seemed fair to him, but what about the innocent children who call him dad during those few days when he is home?
The matter was resolved, at least temporarily, when Phiri offered to give Kala a generous amount of money for the children.
But the cash came with a time frame within which she was to move out of the marriage or else ……
Without specifying what the ‘or else’ entailed,Phiri said he was more than ready to assist Kala initiate the divorce.
But Kala despite her insistence that Phiri ‘do something’ about the kids, still felt indebted to Nkaro for his understanding.
When push came to shove she said there were certain aspects of her husband that made her want to hang around, at least for a little longer.
As temporary as it was, the matter was at least off my books, but not out of my mind. Like most of the stories I share with you, I have learnt many lessons.
Infidelity has been there from the days of King David. Some call it a crime, and whilst it is not my place to moralise, if I was to offer advice it would be of the criminal analogy.
Nowadays thieves were gloves so as not to leave fingerprints. As we continue to pray for zero HIV infection by 2016, all thieves must wear gloves.
I wish you a reflective Independence Weekend.